STL Native Comes Home to Shoot His First Feature Film

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Michael Larnell (left) directs his short film, “Tough Love.”

When New York filmmaker and STL native Michael Larnell got the opportunity to direct his first full-length feature film—thanks, in part, to a grant from the Spike Lee Production Fund and NYU Tisch School of the Arts—it only made sense that he would shoot it in St. Louis. His family still lives here, as do many of his friends with whom he still maintains close ties. It was that friendship that served as the inspiration for Larnell’s coming of age drama, “Cronies.”

“The main character is at a point in his life where he is going one way and his friends are going the other,” Larnell says. “They’re trying to keep a hold of their friendship.” Larnell had to make the same choice when he began thinking about leaving film school at Depaul University in Chicago to attend New York University’s prestigious graduate film program, where he is currently an MFA candidate on a Dean’s Fellow and Kanbar Television scholarship.

Prior to attending Depaul, Larnell graduated from St. Louis University with a business degree and quickly created a club promotion website making videos and posting them. “That’s when I first picked up a camera to play with it. I really enjoyed it and wanted to get better, so I went to school for it,” he says. But Larnell ran into what he perceived as a “glass ceiling” in Chicago, where opportunity was based more on who you know rather than your skills as a filmmaker.

Thus the move to NYU, where as luck would have it, Spike Lee was one of his teachers and advisers. Lee liked the idea for a film that would explore the dissolution of old relationships and the beginning of new ones. Seeing both the potential of the story and Larnell’s passion, Lee awarded him the grant, which will help cover the initial production expenses. Additional funds will be sought for the post production phase.

Although Larnell has directed over 20 short films and documentaries since he started five years ago, “Cronies” is his first feature. He believes St. Louis is a city that has never really been explored on film, and he will capitalize on that by shooting primarily outdoors in locations familiar to St. Louisans, including The Loop, Forest Park and other settings yet to be determined. “I’m definitely excited to come back home to do it. St. Louis is an interesting place, for sure,” Larnell says.

He points to Lee and John Cassavetes as major influences on his filmmaking, citing their ability to bring realistic characters to the screen—people who have a past, complete with flaws, fears, hopes and dreams, just like us. These are the characters that draw an audience into a film, and it is this higher state of filmmaking that Larnell aspires to.

The film is scheduled to begin shooting the first week in September and wrap two weeks later. Those interested in acting or crewing on the film should apply by July 12. For additional information about the film or how to apply for acting or technical positions, visit croniesthemovie.com.

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